History Of A Nation: The Kassites of Babylon

c. 1595 BC – c. 1195 BC

Remember how the first dynasty of Babylon fell to a sack of the Hittites and remember how there was a rival dynasty, the Sealand dynasty, in the south of the country? Yeah, neither them or Hammurabi’s dynasty would hold on to power after the Hittites sacked the city, nor did the Hittites, who as you’ll know from when we covered them, it would have been quite an overextension for them to hold land and they weren’t particularly good at holding onto the land near them let alone Babylon. No, the people who would hold Babylon for the next 500 years would be someone completely different. Enter, stage right, by which I mean the Iranian mountains, the tribes of the Kassites.


The Kassites ruled effectively what Babylon had ruled, for all practical purposes they were Babylon and a continuation of the Babylonian state, so the lower part of the Tigris and Euphrates to the mouth of the not-yet-Persian Gulf.


The difference is just that the people ruling were now comparative barbarians. But the term barbarian wasn’t really a thing either and it’s not like Mesopotamia hadn’t had its share of outside nomad peoples before what with the Gutians and Amorites being so prominent, and it’s not like pure-blooded Sumerians were the only people capable of being civilized. It’s just that up to now the Kassites had lived what we can only guess to have been an existence up on the Iranian plateau so them settling in the lowlands rather than attacking them and pissing off back to their highland home is a more unusual phenomenon. It might just have been that unlike the previous times when they had attacked Babylon, they had not been repelled because the government had just been thrown into complete disarray by the Hittite raid, so the Kassites decided to move in permanently, evidently opportunists. Although they probably only took real control about 25 years after that Hittite raid so perhaps not opportunists. I miss being able to say things with certainty.

We just aren’t sure how they rose to power because there are no records in the Kassite language, they might have recaptured important religious imagery (in the form of a statue of Marduk) from the Hittites for the locals, but this was at least a step backwards in that way even if they weren’t ‘barbarians’. They even built a new capital at Dur-Kurigalzu, named after a king, so they had enough political knowhow to displace Babylonians, some of whom were surely scheming to take the throne for themselves.

And then… they were just really successful and stable. Very surprising for a ruling dynasty whose roots are so mysterious and seemingly rooted in tribal origins. It was 400 years of mostly peace and prosperity for the Babylonians, ruled by people who kept their tribal beliefs and tribal living styles but were dab hands at diplomacy and keeping a state running. Some barbarians do it better than the apparently civilized.

We have a list of 8 early Kassite rulers (on our Assyrian records) for which we have basically no records of otherwise, kings ruling over the tribe as they migrated down from the plateau, and then it starts with Agum II, who was one of the earlier kings to definitely be ruling in Babylon although probably not the first Kassite king to have done so. He’s the guy who retrieved the statue of Marduk. His successor Burnaburiash I is described as the first Kassite to exert true rule over Babylon, at around 1500 BC, after a century of uncertainty as to who was ruling I imagine.

Ulamburiash is the next notable king (after an intervening Kashtiliash III who has everyone a bit suspicious as to whether they could have really had three rulers with that name already), who during his reign extended Kassite control from Babylon to the coast of Mesopotamia. Then there’s Agum III, who led a campaign against the remnants of the Sealand Dynasty, Karaindash who signed treaties with the Assyrians and built many building and basically prospered Babylon a lot. He may have also sent gifts to Thutmose III of Egypt, starting off a tradition of contact and cordial relations between the Kassites and Egypt.

Not long after that we get to Kurigalzu I, the king who established the new capital and named it after himself. It wasn’t actually what the Kassites normally did to assign regnal numbers and given another long-reigning Kurigalzu , the II, came less than half a century later, it’s hard to assign events given on inscriptions to one or the other but most historians go for the first for building projects and a campaign against Elam while the second is known for a campaign or two against the Assyrians. We think at least. The first Kurigalzu rebuilt at least ten or eleven Babylonian cities. Busy and successful, that’s the motto of these totally not-barbarians. Well, I keep calling them barbarians, there’s no real evidence they were, they were just nomads who ended up being efficient rulers. And it certainly didn’t hamper their rule. Kurigalzu (both of them) were probably the most efficient rulers of Babylon since Hammurabi.

Other kings of the Kassites include Nazi-Murittas, who’d like you to pronounce his name very differently and lost a huge battle to the Assyrians. He did proclaim himself as the ‘King Of The World’ as did some kings after him, the Kassites were still strong at this time. Kadashman Turgu was the ruler at the time of the Hittite-Egypt Battle Of Kadesh so we’re in 1274 BC now. This also meant he got involved in the disputed Hittite succession of the time.

Then we get to Kashtiliash IV and you’ll see what I mean about that name because this guy was the downfall of his dynasty, or would have been if the Assyrians had been more competent. He waged war against Assyria, the Assyrians responded by invading right at the heart of Babylon and leading it to defeat. Babylon was ruled by the Assyrians for 8 years before the remnants of the Kassites could seize it back. While they did continue to rule for the next century, they weren’t as strong as they were before and may just have been vassals to the Assyrians before the Elamites invaded and got rid of what remained of the dynasty in the mid 12th century BC.

Even after the Kassite state collapsed though, plenty of Kassite culture remained, an ethnic group lived in the north-east of the state, closer towards the mountains they once called home, contributing archers to Persians and Elymais and all manner of peoples all the way down to the second century AD. They’re mainly described by variants of their name like Cissia or Kossaei so it’s debatable as to whether they were actually Kassites, but their days of ruling a state were in the past regardless.

See also in History Of A Nation: Iraq

SumerMariAkkadNeo-Sumeria, Old AssyriaIsin, Old Babylon

See also in History Of A Nation: Kuwait

SumerAkkadNeo-SumeriaIsinOld Babylon



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